Goodbye, Reaganism, too?

Ross Douthat looks beyond or behind the foreground of performances and tactics, and explains the failure of Marco Rubio’s presidential campaign as a rejection of its “Bushism”:

[I]n purely ideological terms, what primary voters were rejecting when they rejected him was the political synthesis of George W. Bush.

In domestic politics, that synthesis had four pillars: a sincere social conservatism rooted in a personal narrative of faith; a center-hugging “compassionate conservatism” on issues related to poverty and education; the pursuit of comprehensive immigration reform as a means to win Latinos for the G.O.P.; and large across-the-board tax cuts to placate the party’s donors and supply-side wing.

In foreign policy, Bushism began with the promise of restraint but ultimately came to mean hawkishness shot through with Wilsonian idealism, a vision of a crusading America whose interests and values were perfectly aligned.

Douthat goes on to assert that the alternatives offered by Rubio’s more successful competitors – specifically “Trump’s populist, illiberal Jacksonianism” and “Cruz’s hard-edge social and economic conservatism” – may represent the (emphasis in the original) “desire for a new synthesis,” not an authentic new synthesis. Unlike Bushism or “compassionate conservatism” in its moment, neither seems likely, in Douthat’s opinion, to “win the median voter.”

The further question concerns the American Republican, or conservative, or rightwing concepts – separately or all together – in relation to the evident crisis of the Republican Party. The coalition that appears to be deconstructing itself before all of our eyes – conservative intelligentsia and base disgusted at their mirror reflections, each other – is not just the Bush coalition, but the Reagan coalition. The question before us is whether the American Right currently possesses a coherent theory of positive national governance at all, and whether, in the absence of a perceived existential enemy, it can produce even the minimum necessary integration of the American state.


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5 comments on “Goodbye, Reaganism, too?

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  1. The existential fear is all that keeps it going because that’s all that appeals to the folks outside of the country club or the financiers banquet. Accept the browning of America & stop worrying about The Jihadi Under the Bed & the only ones left for the lower classes to throw bricks at are the elites.

    I get the feeling conservatism in Europe is less precarious only because they can trace their aristocrats so far back that they’ve become kitsch. National inside jokes don’t quite inspire the pitchforks…

    • I disagree with you on many things, and wouldn’t put it exactly that way, of course, but I think your first paragraph sums up the dynamic quite succinctly!

      As for the second paragraph, I don’t see things quite that way. “Conservatism” in Europe still means something – or some things – different than what it means in America.

      • A know nothing egotistical billionaire, promising to save the frustrated masses from selfish incompetents of the ruling class by way of punching down Now More Than Ever, as if mining for The Good Old Days in the bodies of the rest of the world… The turn threatens to become an ouroboros.

        Have they ever considered maybe the good old days were not all that great for more people than they’re willing to admit? Or that to extent they were for who they were good for, they were a fluke?

        • There’s no absolute and objective measurement of “how good things really were.” The appeal of Trumpismo arises within your blindspot, the patriotic feeling of being part of something “great.” (I don’t think the need and mechanism are absent from your character – or can be – but you experience them via displacement to a different concrete ideal.)

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